Strategizing International Partnerships

From the readings for this week, it can be gleaned that strategy is now at the forefront of international education policy, as well as higher education in general. Success is usually determined by whether an institute has developed and implemented a sound strategy. The desire for strategic planning can be found in all corners of education; in the finance class, we are learning how budgets are not as simple as adding and subtracting, but puzzles that need to be solved in order to place institutions in solid financial positions. In order for international education programs to get off the ground, and sustain themselves, those in charge must do a lot of analysis and looking to the future.

After reading the three pieces, one particular passage stood out to me, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In the case study, the authors point out that choosing an international market is an extremely important decision. Sometimes a choice can be pretty obvious- an institution in a capitalism country probably isn’t going to try to develop a partnership with North Korea (not that it would be able to make any contact in the first place). More often than not, though, deciding which nations and the particular institutions within them to partner with could be a time-consuming activity.  The authors list “culture and languages, governmental regulations and policy, transactional costs, risk, opportunity and market size” as just some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration (p. 6). That’s a lot to think about!

The first example that popped into my head was the Confucius Institute. These centers purport to offer “language instruction, cultural immersion, teacher training, scholarships, and testing,” according to one of its sites in the United States. Unfortunately, Confucius Institutes are generally mired with controversy over their true purpose. In 2008, the Vancouver Sun released an article whose first paragraph sums up a lot of people’s opinions on the Chinese organization: “There are deeply divided views about the Confucius Institute in Vancouver: Some say it’s a goodwill gesture by Beijing to teach Chinese language and culture, while others believe it’s part of a plot by an emerging superpower to infiltrate and influence foreign citizens and their governments.” Whoa. That’s quite the accusation.

That’s a first-world country, though. It’s not too shocking that people in the wester world would be suspicious of Chinese activities. What about other parts of the world? Didn’t we learn at the beginning of the semester that the Confucius Institutes were pretty popular in Africa? Now that makes sense. Going back to strategies for international markets (which is the whole point of this blog), I feel like whoever decided for African-Chinese partnerships did his or her research.

A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog about how relationships outside of the western world don’t even appear on our mental spectrum because we have absolutely nothing to do with them- but they do exist. The more I think about the Confucius Institutes operating in Africa, the more it seems so obvious. Many nations in Africa have long been subjugated to both colonialism and neocolonialism by European powers. In swoops China, another country that has been affected by the far-reaching grasp of western empires. The Institutes offer to operate in HEIs in various countries, accessing thousands of bright young minds (except for the students who were sent abroad to study). Now that is strategy at its finest- slowly create a generation of educated people who are more likely to associate with China due to their exposure to its language and culture. Why create ties with the western world when there are just as many opportunities to the east.

Perhaps the intentions of the Confucius Institutes are not quite as nefarious as I make them out to be, but still, partnerships in former colonies seem like a pretty good idea. In any case, this goes to show that determining the appropriate international market is a major step in creating a successful international education program.

W3: China, China, and more China

We’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the different motivations behind why countries pursue internationalization in higher education. These motivations range from economic to diplomatic concerns — and everything else in between. Because I live and work in the United States and have a particular interest in U.S. history and politics, I have found myself always relating internationalization back to the U.S. — what are we doing well, versus the (many) things we need to work on. This week, in both the reading and in my professional life, I have been particularly interested in China’s strategies for internationalization in higher education. I will first discuss what I found interesting in this week’s readings and then I will explain what piqued my interest about China this week at work.

In this week’s reading, I was particularly interested in learning about China’s Confucius Institute in Africa, which began in 2000 and has “resulted in an increased number of Chinese government grants for African students in 2012, the establishment of 100 joint research and development projects, and the strengthening of the teaching of the Chinese language in Africa” (American Council on Education, 2015 pp. 47). Reading this, I immediately wondered if this huge investment in higher education in Africa is a way to increase the ROI of China’s economic investment in African countries; according to The Economist“China has become by far Africa’s biggest trading partner, exchanging about $160 billion-worth of goods a year; more than 1m Chinese, most of them labourers and traders, have moved to the continent in the past decade.”

A report from Peter Kragelund, a Professor of Sociology at Roskilde University in Denmark seems to back up my initial inkling. Kragelund’s paper “sets out to explore the extent to which this collaboration resembles a new type of South- South collaboration in higher education or rather resembles soft power initiatives of the Africa’s ‘traditional’ partners” (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 2). By South-South collaboration, he is referring to political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental collaboration between what are often referred to as “developing countries”, whereas “traditional partners” refers to relationships between developing countries and Western countries, which have historically had colonial or neocolonial undertones. Kragelund states that the history of higher education in Africa “is also the history of external support, academic partnerships and adherence to Western standards that either directly or indirectly have shaped the particular outcome of the present‐day universities in Africa” (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 3).

Kragelund ultimately concludes that the Confucius Institute more closely resembles the “traditional” Western types of partnerships, “i.e. partnerships dictated by the external partner exhibiting highly uneven power relations, and not necessarily in line with the vision and strategy of UNZA [University of Zambia, which he specifically studied]”. (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 15). Like all other countries who are internationalizing in higher education, China is mainly concerned with promoting its own interests. Given its economic investment in Africa, it makes sense that it would also seek to increase its cultural investment through the Confucius Institute.

On the professional front, this week I learned about Schwarzman Scholars, a scholarship program “created to respond to the geopolitical landscape of the 21st Century”, which funds a 1-year Master’s program in Public Policy, Economics and Business, or International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This program is brand new — its inaugural class was just selected and will begin classes in August of 2016. According to a recruiter for the program who spoke at Roosevelt House last week, around half of the inaugural class is American, a quarter are Chinese, and a quarter come from other countries. Classes will be held at Schwarzman College, which is a residential college within Tsinghua University.

I am particularly interested in the structure of the program — a new college solely dedicated to this particular program within an established university. Going off of this week’s readings, “to offer formal degree programs in China, a foreign university must establish a joint legal entity with a Chinese partner institution. Such programs must be approved by the Ministry of Education and subsequently operate under the ministry’s supervision” (American Council on Education, 2015 pp. 41). As it stands, independent foreign institutions cannot have nonprofit status and cannot grant degrees, which, I imagine, is why the program is hosted at a U.S.-built residential college within Tsinghua University.

With China playing an increasingly important role in global affairs, it makes sense that the scope and ambition of its higher education internationalization efforts will continue to increase.